My JPost blog almost always focuses on its central theme, anti-Semitism. I have another blogstream on Times of Israel on which I typically discuss secondary issues to Jewish survival, such as Israel’s relationships with surrounding countries and the world, and the so-called Special Relationship with the United States. In other words, issues relating to Israel’s survival. Of course the two blogs are intertwined in that our Diaspora security and survival depends on the continued security and survival of Zionism’s intended refuge for Diaspora Jewry, the State of Israel.
I do not consider myself a “hawk” in matters politics or diplomacy. I have, for instance, always supported a state for Palestinians living side-by-side in peace and accepting Israel as the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people. But short of such acceptance I have no hesitation in supporting Israel’s survival, whatever the cost to an intransigent neighborhood. And it was in this regard that I wrote this article nearly a year ago for my alternate blogstream.
If Israel is threatened by her neighbors then she should be free to protect herself; even at the cost to the security of her neighbors. In a recent Debka report describing the expansion of al-Quaeda and Salafi forces build-up in Syria, and holding positions on the Golan, an Israeli commander recently suggested that,
“for the first time in Syria’s three-year civil conflict, Israel is ready to embark on cross-border military action to stem this direct threat.”
A point of fact, in March, 2013 Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, northern command, had already suggested the possibility, which inspired my earlier discussion presented below. In past articles I recalled the relative peace and tranquility Israel experienced following the 1967 war in which brought under Israeli control the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and Gaza and the Golan Heights, creating a sort of Greater Israel. With the Islamist Winter the threat to Israel is not now from massed armies but from individual and small group terrorism. As such the casualties will more likely be civilian, not military.
This week’s article, substantially unchanged, is a reprint that appeared in the March 26, 2013 edition of Times of Israel, Shalom l’Galil: Israel in Syria:
Two weeks ago [March, 2013] Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, warned that the,
“situation in Syria has become exceptionally dangerous and unstable. Although the probability of a conventional war against the Syrian army is low, the terrorist organizations fighting Assad may yet set their sights on us. The Syrian army’s tremendous strategic resources [poison gas] may well fall into terrorist hands”
And today the news from the Golan is that al-Quaeda affiliates have captured a strategic town in the eastern Golan providing the terrorists easy access to Israel, Jordan and Lebanon.
The war in Syria long since destroyed central authority leaving the remnants of statehood distributed among warring ethno-religious factions. No central authority, no national military: just anarchy with those warring factions possibly already possessing recently delivered Russian modern weapons from the captured state armory. Most worrisome at that time was an advanced and indigenous developed array of poison gas,
“believe[d] [to be] one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world. Specifically, the supply could include sarin, mustard and VX gases.”
If Iran represents a threat in slow motion, Syria is a disaster on steroids. And in the meantime the US and the EU stand by wringing their hands, helpless. With Obama’s recent visit and the apparent rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, were there a sovereign state where once there was Syria Assad would be feeling the noose around his neck. Instead the new defense net of Israel, Turkey and Jordan find themselves under the “leadership” of the uncertain giant, the United States and its president, Barak Obama. Such a military alignment three years ago would have represented a diplomatic breakthrough. Facing the region post-Arab Spring; with the demonstrated ineptitude of America’s performance in asserting power and controlling events on the ground, there is room for serious doubt. The United States has become a country seemingly desperate to escape the region, determined to force Israel not to rock the apple cart, regardless of harm to the junior party to the Strategic Relationship.
Two weeks ago I wrote that the current standoff between Russia and the US offers risk and opportunity for Israel. Al-Qaeda irregulars are reportedly entrenched on the Golan and, with the defeat of Syrian forces along the border with Iraq, are described to control a “volatile 1,000-km chain from Baghdad to Damascus.” If Egyptian forces moved into Sinai in 1967 represented a causus belli, is al-Quaeda on the Golan less so?
For Israel, the implication of an attack on Iran is problematic due to the economic blowback of yet another disruption to oil on the heels of the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. But al-Qaeda terrorists on the Golan? That is a question of immediate threat. And al-Quaeda, unlike Iran presently, represents a direct threat to Madrid and New York and London. They already have western blood on their hands. Syria in chaos represents a long-term threat to regional stability, but potentially an immediate threat to Israel.
The United Nations has a proven record of failure as regional peace-keeper so cannot be expected to control the threat of al-Quaeda to countries neighboring Syria. The only reliable buffer between terrorism and Israel is represented by the Israeli military, and a territorial separation acting as buffer. This was effective in protecting the Israel homeland for decades following the Six Day War.
Israel’s area of control might extend to the outskirts of Damascus, the original separation of forces line in 1967, and a strip along the border of Lebanon to the sea. And while Hezbollah and Hamas lie outside this discussion, clearly both would face a radically different future without a direct link to their Iranian patron.
And what of Iran? The Islamic Republican Guards already trained and armed Syrian insurgents as they had Iraqi Shiites part of their trap for Bush’s invading US forces. Will the ayatollahs just stand aside and observe Israel spoil their dreams for Hezbollah in Syria?
For years Israel has posed a threat to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The cost of direct intervention against Israel in Syria is an open invitation for Israel to carry through that threat as an act of immediate “self-defense,” no longer mere anticipation of pre-emptive action. Is Iran really willing to risk an attack on its homeland as price of protecting their interests in Syria?
In 1967 Israel’s Jewish population was barely two million; no known natural resources; a limited landmass and almost indefensible borders with a military poorly equipped by today’s standards. Her victory established her as the pre-eminent military force in the region. And, with the addition of the territories enemy borders from which to threaten the state were far distant from Israel’s population centers.
Today Israel is increasingly energy independent with the discovery of offshore natural gas reserves. Were Israel to act to clear the Golan, push al-Quaeda deep into the Syrian hinterland not only would Israel’s population centers be distanced from that potential terror threat, but with Lebanon contained the threat by Hezbollah of Israel’s offshore natural gas facilities would also be easier to defend. And while I don’t want to get to enthusiastic regarding the near and distant future of the state of the Jews, with Arab oil growing less important in a world suddenly awash in it; with the Middle East fast using up is aquifers and Israel the world’s leader in desalination technology; with Israel the only regional power capable of containing Shiite Iran as threat to Sunni Arabia…
Israel’s military is famous for doing the unexpected, and succeeding. Is such an operation as described above beyond possibility? Certainly the instability of a “Arab Spring” poorly managed by the United States leading to the Islamist Winter means instability will remain a long-term factor in the region. A military buffer between Israel and a likely long-term unstable Syria must be in discussion in Israel. I mentioned above that comment by Major Gen. Yair Golan, northern command. His comment sounds like the first stage of what I am suggesting:
“One of the defensive measures that we of course cannot rule out is creating a defensive buffer zone on the other side of the border, together with interlocutors who will have an interest in cooperating with us against other elements who threaten them too,”
War is not to be taken lightly, and sending Tzahal into Syria has its risks and its costs in lives of our troops, enemy non-combatants and military forces. But under the present state of chaos and threat surrounding Israel it is difficult not to recall the sense of quiet and security while Israel held the Sinai; the security of not having Syrian soldiers atop the Golan firing into the Valley. Sometimes a limited war is necessary to provide a strategic buffer greater than any security fence can provide.
Postscript, 27 January, 2014:
Events since March, 2013 have not suggested that America’s understanding of events in the Middle East, or its standing in the eyes of former allies and dependencies in the region has improved. Egypt is discussing arms purchases with Russia and even the Saudis have opened a diplomatic channel with Russia. Obama and Kerry insistence remaining America’s future role in the Middle East, Russia is clearly filling the vacuum left by America’s retreat.
And then there is the apparent wooing of the ayatollahs, the emerging “alliance” between the United States and Iran, the military cooperation between the two countries in “fighting al-Quaeda and the Sunni Salafis (the Saudi contribution to the wars in Syria and Iraq; the US fighting the Saudis!). The clear implication is that, if Obama couldn’t stabilize Egypt by removing Mubarak, supporting his replacement by the Islamist Mother Brotherhood (from whom emerged Hamas and al-Quaeda); if Iranian muckraking in Syria forced a delay in America’s withdrawal from the region: What better solution to make the region safe for the American retreat than allying with the single most destabilizing threat to the region, Iran?
In response to American confusion at best the Saudis are calling in the chips from having funded Pakistan’s nuclear weaponization, several Saudi nukes to counter the Iranian threat. And Israel, constrained from dealing with America’s new ally, Iran… And Israel, perhaps a variant of the diminished “Greater Israel” described above will provide near-time security.